Monday, October 24, 2011

The Simple Truth about Why Children Don’t Like School

Guest post Cathy Earle

Peter Gray says that freedom is the most important ingredient in learning. He also says that schools are prisons.

Schools are not like prisons—it's not a metaphor. According to Gray, public schools are true prisons in that most children have to go, and, once there, they have their activities — even their biological necessities — controlled and curtailed.

So, who is this guy? Why should we care what Peter Gray has to say?

Peter Gray is a research professor of psychology at Boston College and a specialist in developmental and evolutionary psychology. He has published articles on innovative teaching methods and alternative approaches to education; and is author of Psychology, an introductory college textbook now in its 6th edition. He did his undergraduate study at Columbia University and earned a Ph.D. in biological sciences at Rockefeller University. His current research and writing focuses primarily on children's natural ways of learning and the life-long value of play. His own play includes not only his research and writing, but also long distance bicycling, kayaking, back-woods skiing, and vegetable gardening.

See what he has to say in the video below.

 For additional insights, visit Peter's blog at

Cathy Earle is an educator who has worked in public schools and a variety of private venues. She has been a curriculum lab director, a managing editor at an education publishing house, and a freelance education writer working for such clients as The Learning Company, Orange County Department of Education, and Disney Software. She homeschooled her own children from birth to college, using child-led and interest-based methods rather than formal academic teaching. Her daughters are now grown and successful.  Her blog for children, Every Day Is Special, can be found at


  1. Dr. Gray makes a great point about ADHD being a "school" disorder. Many people, especially children, learn best through action and hands-on methods. The school system is very much a passive, sit-and-read environment, which is simply boring and monotonous. It's not as if the disliking of such a system is exclusive to children; adults of any age who run a red light or get into an automotive accident often dread having to sit through a mandatory driving class. These children are often being punished simply for being different, and in addition to medication that can badly affect them in their formative years, they are constantly told that they are problems and outliers. This negative reinforcement from a young age no doubt depresses children and makes them less enthusiastic about learning, and students who are truly struggling may even come to use it as an excuse for their behavior instead of taking the proper steps to improve.

  2. If schools WERE prisons, then the per-pupil funding would double and security would improve! :)

  3. They're prisons? Wait, shouldn't I be getting kickbacks?

  4. If schools were prisons, every child would have free health care.

  5. Schools are not just a place for children to be educated, but for the society to turn them into well-behaved adults. This second mission has overtaken the first one as our society has become much less free. Our ability to do what we want, even as adults, has become restricted more and more - and thus schools try to control their students more and more. Basically we are trying to create "good workers," not learners.

  6. School does not have to be a prison. Teachers make the choice to make their classrooms the environment they are. If you want a play, hands on learning environment, create it! Just because you have a curriculum set out for you does not mean that it tells you how to present the information.